Osorezan: Mt. Osore (Shimokita Peninsula)
After visiting Ne Castle in Hachinohe in the early morning I rushed to my train to get to the Shimokita Peninsula, having the typhoon right behind me. Unfortunately the trains weren’t running anymore at that time and buses were provided instead. The buses were much slower than the trains and so I also missed the bus connection to my next destination: Osorezan aka Mt. Osore …
In front of JR Shimokita Station in Mutsu City I waiting for the next bus to go to Mt. Osore.
It was gray and cloudy, but there was no rain or wind yet, so I didn’t understand why they already stopped the trains. Mutsu City Tourist Information Center is right next to the station. You’ll get all the information you need as well as a map of Osorezan.
The buses leave right in front of the information center. There are also a few coin lockers.
Visiting Osorezan – The Gateway to Hell
Osorezan (恐山) literally means “terrifying mountain” and is considered to be the gateway to Hell. If you have a look at the landscape of volcanic wasteland, howling winds and bubbling sulphur pit, you’ll understand where this is coming from. The nearby Lake Usorisan is considered to be a gate that deceased souls need to cross on their way to afterlife.
Mt. Osore is not an actual mountain (879m), but a caldera volcano in the center of the remote Shimokita Peninsula (下北半島) in Aomori Prefecture. The last eruption was in 1787 according to the Smithsonian National Museum of National History.
You can only visit from May 1st to October 31st!
After that the harsh winter makes it impossible for tourists to access.
Bodai Temple (菩提寺) offers temple lodging and a onsen for visitors.
Despite its remoteness it is a very popular and well-known destination.
From July 22nd to 24th the Osorezan Taisai (恐山大祭) is held. People who want to communicate with lost loved ones attend.
Mediums known as Itako (イタコ, traditionally they were blind women, nowadays many are not) who have undergone extensive spiritual training will try to communicate with the dead. They have to perform purification rituals for 3 months before the actual event starts.
As you can see the weather was already quite horrible when I arrived. It started raining and it was windy.
The typhoon was almost there.
At least the weather made it feel like this was really the “gateway to hell”!
A very weird turtle monster (?!) stone statue.
A lot of manga figures were drawn on the ema of the temple.
Right behind the main temple facility you can start your stroll through the volcanic grounds of Mt. Osore.
It’s a very spacious and unique landscape that awaits you!
I recommend taking your time as there are so many things to discover like these little Jizo statues hiding somewhere in or between the huge volcanic rocks.
There are millions of Jizo statues everywhere!
Jizo (地蔵) are the guardian of children and the bodhisattva of Hell. They protect the site.
As mentioned earlier the nearby lake is considered to be a gate to afterlife (Sanzu no Kawa, 三途の川).
The souls of dead children and unborn babies try to cross the river. This “limbus infantium” is represented by piles of pebbles along the riverbed (Sai no Kawara, 賽の河原).
The Jizo protect the souls from evil demons that try to destroy those piles of pebbles.
Rain drops on my lens. The rain was getting stronger.
The Jizo needed to be protected from the rain, too, I guess.
As the Jizo are the guardians of the children’s souls you’ll also find a lot of toys and other typical items for children such as colorful wind wheels.
It was the beginning of May, so Children’s Day was close. That’s why there were tiny koi flags. Really cute!
In the background you see Lake Usorisan (宇曽利山湖) that the dead souls are supposed to cross on their way to afterlife. Close to the riverbed there were a lot of stones and statues.
It was a very unique sight!
I hope the Jizo are able to protect the children’s souls on their way across the river.
The bad weather created a really spooky atmosphere.
I’m sure the atmosphere would have been completely different in good weather.
It really has a very special atmosphere to it that you should experience yourself.
Did I just spot a lost soul? ….
The area along the riverbed is actually really quiet and peaceful.
While the river looks quite beautiful and a stroll along the riverbed can be nice, the water is poisonous, so you shouldn’t take a bath in there!
This “dude” was completely wrapped up!
It started raining really hard and I felt sorry for the Jizo, but I’m sure they still did a great job protecting the children!
It’s probably hard to tell but this was a very huge statue!
Here they even wrote the name and age of the deceased children.
Such a cute wind wheel!
Those little Jizo figures were the most common and you could find them almost everywhere.
The weather got more and more uncomfortable. The typhoon had finally arrived.
At that point I was completely soaked! Keep in mind that Tohoku in May is still very cold.
Being completely wet in cold weather is not the best idea, but what can you do?
I tried to hang in there. There was still some time left until the next bus would come and I was already wet anyways.
I wanted to see more of the beautiful and unique landscape.
There was still some snow left, so you can imagine how cold it was.
Those statues looked like they were freezing, too.
The middle one almost lost its hat due to the strong wind.
Extremely strong rain. It was difficult to take decent photos.
You can see the date displayed on the sign: May 3rd 2012 (Heisei 24, 平成２４)
People can take a photo of themselves there, but I doubt that anybody wanted to in that kind of weather!
I had a few more minutes before my bus would come, so I rushed along the river (outside of temple facility, near the parking lot) because the colors of the river were so beautiful despite the bad weather!
The different colors are caused by the river’s high sulfur content.
This bridge with the river in the background is a very popular spot to take photos.
At that time it was the end of the world, so I couldn’t get a nice shot, but you can google it to see how beautiful it is in good weather!
That style of bridge is called “Taiko Bridge” (太鼓橋) in Japanese.
It is said that bad people cannot cross the bridge as they’ll just see a mountain of needles instead of the bridge.
These statues are right next to the bridge.
I had to rush back to catch my bus.
Back at the Shimokita JR Station the trains were running, but with delay. I had to wait for over an hour, sitting around in soaked clothes, freezing like hell. It’s a wonder that I didn’t catch a cold.
Luckily some nice Japanese people around me who had to wait as well, offered me their jacket and whatnot.
The train ride back took a long time, too. My clothes were almost dry by the time I arrived at the coin locker were I had my suitcase.
After changing clothes and drinking something hot, I was off to Aomori City.
Stay tuned for more.
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Events in Jan/Feb 2017:
- Jan 15: Matobakai (Kumamoto)
- Jan 15: Toh-shiya (Kyoto)
- Jan 17: Bonden-sai (Akita)
- Jan 28: Yamayaki (Nara)
- Feb 3: Setsubun (nationwide)
- Feb 3-12: Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi
- Feb 6-12: Sapporo Snow Festival
- Feb 7-12: Asahikawa Winter Festival
- Feb 15-16: Yokote Kamakura Festival
- Feb 17-19: Tokamachi Snow Festival
- Feb 18: Naked Festival at Saidai-ji (Okayama)